By STEPHEN WHYNO, AP Hockey Writer
Desperate times called for a players-only meeting in the Washington Capitals’ locker room after they fell behind 2-0 in their second-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
What was said? Matt Niskanen called it “none of your business,” Alex Ovechkin insisted “it stays between us,” and Justin Williams said, “We’ll keep that between us.”
Suffice it to say, when alternate captain Nicklas Backstrom and other leaders spoke up, it wasn’t a cheery message.
“It was things that people need to say and things that some people need to hear,” winger T.J. Oshie said. “What was said is what needed to be said.”
What’s said matters little if the Capitals don’t get the job done on the ice in Game 3 on Monday night in Pittsburgh (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports). Already, they face long odds, as just 18 of the previous 87 teams to drop the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home have gone on to win the series, and only four in NHL history have come back from a 3-0 deficit.
Coach Barry Trotz didn’t feel he needed to say Braden Holtby would start Game 3 but did so when asked Sunday during a conference call. Trotz pulled Holtby after three goals on 14 shots in two periods on Saturday night and seemed stunned to be asked about his status for Game 3.
“Yes, absolutely, why would you think otherwise?” Trotz said. “No question he’s our goaltender. Expect him to start tomorrow.”
Trotz praised Holtby’s mental toughness and body of work, and said the reigning Vezina Trophy winner will “be the difference in this series.” Holtby has responded well in games after being pulled this season, including back-to-back shutouts on one occasion and a string of eight consecutive victories on another.
Holtby, who is 7-4 with a 2.62 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in eight games in these playoffs after putting up far better numbers in previous postseasons, took the blame for not making a save on the Penguins’ third goal in Game 2. But he’s by far not the only problem for the Capitals, who’ve had some ill-timed turnovers and mistakes that have led to odd-man rushes.
“Everybody’s in the same boat,” Williams said. “We’re just not doing quite enough. To beat them you have to do everything right. We’re not going to shy away from it. We’re going to go there and see what we’re made of. We’re just a hair off. You go to the puck and you’re a hair away. There’s little ticks here and there, little races, little battles throughout the ice, and we’re not quite there.”
The Capitals have outshot the Penguins 71-44 through two games but were outscored 9-4. Niskanen said the Capitals “can see our path to success,” and one of Oshie’s key points is that he and his teammates must avoid frustration.
There are some tactical adjustments they must make, especially after Sidney Crosby and Co. blocked 62 shots through two games and turned a few of those into goals.
“We’ve got to get our shots through and around the blocks,” Trotz said. “We’ve got to shoot it quicker before they can get in those lanes.”
For a team with a reputation of early playoff exits and one that hasn’t made it past the second round in the Ovechkin era, there’s no shortage of urgency.
“No one in here needs a lesson about how to go home early,” Oshie said. “We’ve done that. It’s well known. The fans know it. We need to man up here and go into Game 3 and change our attitude and have some fun while we do it.”
HORNQVIST, KUHNHACKL QUESTIONS
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan didn’t have an update Sunday on forwards Patric Hornqvist and Tom Kuhnhackl, who left Game 2. Hornqvist blocked a shot by John Carlson in the first period and never returned, leading to a reunion of the “Sid and the Kids” line with Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary.
If either forward can’t play, Scott Wilson figures to be back in after coming out Saturday night for the return of Carl Hagelin. Carter Rowney would figure to be next on the list.
Guentzel, the kid from Omaha, Nebraska, scored twice in Game 2 and has a playoff-best seven goals.
“I’m playing with great players and I’m just trying to be around the net,” Guentzel said.
PAGEAU, PAGEAU, PAGEAU, PAGEAU
After Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored four goals for the Ottawa Senators in Game 2 on Saturday including the double-overtime winner that put them up 2-0 in the series against the New York Rangers, it might be time for another defensive strategy.
“Maybe I’m going to put a checker on their checker because he’s supposed to be their checker and he got four goals,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Sunday on a conference call.
Vigneault believes an extra day off before the series shifts to Madison Square Garden for Game 3 on Tuesday will help the Rangers, even though he believes they’ve played pretty well after allowing 21 shots in the first period of the first game.
“There are some areas that I feel that we can be a little bit better at,” Vigneault said. “It’s going to permit us to work on a couple things, it’s going to permit us to show maybe a little bit more video and it’s going to give our players an extra day.”
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